The Plague

The Plague Imagery

Rats Dying

The imagery at the beginning of the novel in which rats are slowly crawling into the street and dying, with blood oozing from their orifices, is a grotesque foreshadowing of the human deaths to come with the plague. Camus builds the tension up slowly, having a character step on a dead rat, or note them in the street, or finally, see them expire bloodily; this is an effective way to fill the reader with dread for what is to come.

The Cathedral and the Sermon

Paneloux's first sermon is not just weighty in its words, for the weather outside matches the unrest within. There is a rough downpour outside, with "drumming of raindrops on the chancel windows" (95), and a "wet wind" (98) that makes the candles flicker. It seems as if God himself is giving credence to the seriousness of the priest's warning, for it is not until the sermon is over that "watery sunshine" (99) brightens the cathedral square.

The Streets and the Wind

As with the prior example, Camus uses intensities of weather to mirror the pervasive and terrible reality of the plague. Here he writes of the "long-drawn stridence of the wind" (168) that howls through the empty streets at night, sweeping them with "unimpeded violence" (168) and turning everything into "dust-clouds" (168). All of this contributes to an effective image of isolation and ominousness.

The Abandoned Opera Seats

At the end of the opera, the actor playing Orpheus seems utterly overcome not with the fictive scene he is supposed to be playing but with the actual reality of the plague. He collapses in despair and fatigue and the audience files out, first silently, then more and more aggressively as they become consumed by nervousness and horror. Camus writes, "[it was] plague on the stage in the guise of a disarticulated mummer, and in the auditorium the toys of luxury, so futile now, forgotten fans and lace shawls derelict on the red plush seats" (201). This a simple but stirring image that conveys the fact that nothing can stop the ravages of the plague—no one can forget, no one can escape, no one can pretend that they can live a normal life for a time. The abandoned detritus of frivolity and pleasure is a potent reminder of what is lost.